Pitcher John Smoltz finalized his US$5.5 million, one-year agreement with the Boston Red Sox, confident he can still contribute after 20 years with the Atlanta Braves and major offseason shoulder surgery.
“I’m as determined and I’m as focused as I’ve ever been,” the right-hander said on Tuesday. “The uniform has changed. The desire won’t change.”
Smoltz can earn an additional US$5 million in bonuses based on time on the active 25-man roster: US$125,000 for his first day, US$35,000 a day from June 1 through Oct. 3, and US$500,000 for Oct. 4, the last scheduled day of the regular season.
“I don’t see this as one year,” he said. “Age is just a number.”
The 41-year-old Smoltz has 210 wins, 154 saves and a 3.26 ERA in a 20-year career with the Atlanta Braves. Last season, he was 3-2 with a 2.57 ERA before going on the disabled list in June.
Smoltz and general manager Theo Epstein said the pitcher will be a starter once he’s ready. They’re in no hurry to get him on the mound for a regular-season game.
With a strong starting rotation of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Brad Penny and Tim Wakefield, the Red Sox can bring Smoltz along slowly to make sure he’s ready for the stretch drive and, if they get there, the playoffs.
Neither Epstein nor Smoltz gave a timetable for him to pitch in a game, but both said his shoulder was progressing well.
“I see him starting important games for us late in the season and, hopefully, into October,” Epstein said. “We’re going to slow him down with the big picture in mind.”
But he said Smoltz could be ready to pitch in April if they needed him.
“I’m doing great,” said Smoltz, who described himself as a quick healer.
His ERA has been below 3.50 in each of his last 13 seasons. And it’s been above 4.00 in only two of his 20 seasons. In 20 2-3 innings at Fenway Park he has a 0.00 ERA.
“I love the fact that I’ve never given up an earned run in this park,” he said.
He also said he had no bitterness toward the Braves.
“They were taking a different direction and, for the most part, left me with really no options,” Smoltz said.
Other teams made inquiries about him, but he was very impressed that Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, vice president of player personnel Ben Cherington and assistant trainer Mike Reinold traveled to Atlanta to talk with him and watch him pitch.
“That’s a pretty impressive thing,” Smoltz said.
Smoltz would be just the eighth player to spend 20 consecutive seasons with one team, then switch to another, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The others are Hank Aaron, Phil Cavarretta, Ty Cobb, Harmon Killebrew, Willie Mays, Phil Neikro and Warren Spahn.
All but Cavarretta are Hall of Famers.
Boston has been busy over the last few days. On Saturday, the Braves reached a US$1.5 million, one-year agreement with reliever Takashi Saito. His salary would escalate to US$2.5 million if he’s on the 25-man opening-day roster.
He would earn US$500,000 each for 30, 60, 90, 120 and 150 days on the active roster, and if he’s not on the opening-day roster, he would get a US$1 million bonus on the first day he’s active. In addition, Saito would get US$500,000 each for 50 games and each additional five appearances through 70.
Boston holds a 2010 option for whatever his total earnings for this year wind up at.